The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 spacecraft was the first to achieve a lunar soft landing and survive to transmit photographic data back to Earth. Launched on the last day of January 1966, Luna 9 truly made a crash landing, bouncing several times (it impacted at roughly 14 miles per hour, slowed by a retrorocket and then four onboard engines) before coming to rest in a region known as Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) on February 3, 1966. Several minutes later its four “petals” opened up and stabilized the spacecraft on the surface. It’s sensor payload consisted only of a radiation detector and a small upward facing camera. A turret-mounted rotating mirror mounted above the camera allowed it to capture 360 imagery from its stationary position on the lunar surface.
Luna 9 transmitted data to Earth in seven radio sessions totaling just more than 8 hours. These transmissions included three series of TV pictures--the first taken from the moon’s surface--as well as panoramic views of the lunar frontier. Radiation data was also returned. Three days later the batteries died and Luna 9’s mission was terminated.
But despite its short duration, by simple virtue of its landing Luna 9 settled something that was previously uncertain--that the lunar surface could support a spacecraft (Luna 9 weighed about 220 pounds). Some models at that point in time showed that the lunar regolith wasn’t load-bearing; any spacecraft that landed there would sink into the moon’s powdery surface. Luna 9 placed a manned mission to the moon firmly within the realm of possibility.